Tuesday 24 October 2017

Owen, Giggs a class apart

Leeds United 0
Manchester United 3

Henry Winter

Manchester United were so in control of this League Cup tie, so committed to attack, that they could afford to finish with arguably one of the most creative back-fours of their history in Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Fabio.

Berbatov likes dropping deep but this was ridiculously deep.

Leeds were certainly out of their depth against Alex Ferguson's high-class reserves, utterly outclassed in the first half when the outstanding Michael Owen struck twice, showing all his old touch around the penalty area, and Ryan Giggs added another.

Leeds fans never stopped singing, never stopped backing their team but the gulf has rarely been wider. Leeds' first team had the life strangled out of them by the visitors' second string.

The champions accommodated three debut-makers throughout the night, the assured Zeki Fryers and two substitutes, Paul Pogba and Larnell Cole, as Ferguson reminded the world of his club's strength.

His changes were swiftly vindicated. From the start, Valencia was composed at right-back, Carrick scarcely troubled at centre-half, and the teenaged Fryers beside him, delivering the occasional long driven pass and covering for Fabio when the Brazilian full-back pushed on.

Totally committed to attack, the champions really had only two midfielders, Ji-sung Park and Giggs, dominating the centre, the stranglehold maintained when Pogba replaced Giggs for the second half.

Ferguson's approach was adventure personified, his midfielders and full-backs looking to feed a four-man front-line.

Mame Diouf, eventually Danny Welbeck, and the left-sided Federico Macheda, eventually Cole, kept seeking to get behind Leeds' full-backs.


Berbatov dropped into the hole and schemed, looking to release midfield runners or Owen, who certainly seized his chance.

Make that chances. Owen has always believed in his ability, even with first Javier Hernandez and this season Welbeck rising above him in the strikers' pecking order at Old Trafford. He has stayed professional, focused on being ready when Ferguson called on him.

No matter the changes in the Manchester United team, there was no change in the venom that fills the air in this fixture.

The Premier League pacesetters survived early pressure, needing Berbatov to thwart Tom Lees and Ross McCormack, before parading the class in their much-altered ranks after 15 minutes.

Berbatov was the catalyst for the breakthrough, dropping into midfield and sweeping a fine pass down the inside-right channel for Park.

Leeds were caught out by the speed and precision of the attack. This was Premier League reactions against Championship.

Park turned and slipped the ball across to Owen, who neatly worked himself a glimpse of goal as Leigh Bromby and Darren O'Dea froze. Owen's finish was not his strongest, lacking the emphatic nature of his second, but it still wrong-footed Andy Lonergan.

Leeds rallied, Adam Clayton going close but Owen, Giggs and company were too quick, too determined, too good.

Shortly after the half-hour mark, Diouf set up Owen for his second; his first touch controlled the ball, his second drilled it brilliantly past Lonergan from the edge of the area.

As a flare was lit in the away enclosure, Owen could reflect on Elland Road being a bittersweet venue for him, the striker having torn his hamstring chasing an over-hit pass while playing for Liverpool here in 1999.

The problem stalked him for periods of his career, but there was nothing inhibited about Owen's movement last night.

He was sharp and hungry, highlighting the depth of talent Ferguson can call upon.

The game briefly became fractious and littered with cautions. Fabio caught Bromby, Diouf went through on Aidan White before Robert Snodgrass clattered Park.

At least the half closed with a moment of class, Giggs taking the ball from Park, nutmegging Snodgrass before sweeping in a superb goal.

Giggs departed at the break, his work done, and Pogba ran on as Ferguson played the regeneration game.

The game's traffic remained largely one way, and Owen almost completed a hat-trick but his curled shot faded just wide.

It was long over as a contest but there were still moments of interest, particularly the sight of Ferguson's latest fledglings in action.

Fryers demonstrated good positioning and awareness to block Snodgrass' cross. Then Pogba, working hard in the boiler-room, raced forward, lifting in a ball clutched by Lonergan.

Another debut-maker arrived, Cole, who charged up and down the right.

When Ferguson decided to withdraw Fryers, his team ended with 10 men, and Berbatov operating at centre-back, showing complete sangfroid in moving the ball effortlessly away from Lees.

The home team almost grabbed a consolation but the substitute, Ramon Nunez, shot wildly wide moments before the final whistle.

Leeds fans kept singing but last night was a chastening affair for them on the pitch.

Off it was another ugly occasion. As Manchester United's team bus was escorted into the Elland Road car park by three riot vans, Leeds United supporters, young and old, greet its arrival with chants of 'Scum' before cuddly mascot Lucas the Kop Cat entertains the same white-shirted youngsters inside the ground.

The security cordon provided by yellow-coated stewards enabled the United squad to disembark in some kind of car park demilitarised zone -- neutral turf only penetrated by the invective hurled from beyond the barriers.

The baying mob then melted away, giggling schoolkids ready to re-tell the tale of how they taunted Giggs, Owen and the rest of the Ferguson's loathed United players.

That was the pantomime. The poison came from later, once the 3,000 United supporters accommodated in the Elland Road Stand injected the spite and venom that has stained this fixture for almost half a century.

A banner among the United fans which read 'Istanbul' was akin to a matador waving a red flag at an angry bull, a direct reference to the fatal stabbings of two Leeds supporters prior to a UEFA Cup tie against Galatasaray in Turkey in Apr 2000. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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